We All Need a “Midori”, Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Kobayashi Midori is a prominent character in the novel, Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. Well-known for his fantastical stories, the simplicity of this novel may surprise you at first but then you ease into it, only to finish it needing time to process what you’ve just read.

Luckily for me my friend, Carla, had recently finished reading the book and so I sent her a message on Facebook. Below are selected parts of the conversation because I’m trying to avoid spoilers.

Carla’s responses are in purple:

…the ending got me rolling. like Watanabe being disoriented but it gave a limbo impression. Like he just died and hadn’t realized it

“Midori was the BEST. Every book needs a Midori I knowwww that ending!!!!”

“EVERYONE NEEDS A MIDORI”

“I’m choosing to interpret it as momentary confusion because the alternative is too sad hahah it’s so true though!”

“yeah momentary confusion – i understand – BUT what would inflict that?”

“I kind of don’t want to know”

I DO! I’m a curious little shit


However, despite it being illogical for Toru to have died or be in limbo, the word choice for that sentence still leaves an unshakeable inference to limbo. Also, talking to Carla made me realize that Toru being alive was more profound considering the “curse” (I borrow the word “curse” from Carla) that seem to cling to his best friends, Kizuki and Naoko. It’s as if him being alive broke the cycle and I believe Midori helped him.

The novel begins with the protagonist, Watanabe Toru recalling his youth, stirred from listening to the Beatles song, Norwegian Wood. A bulk of the story takes place in the past, narrated by Toru, as he pursues a degree in Drama, encountering (as Carla puts it beautifully), “fantastical characters” who are complementary with the simplicity of the plot. I being 20, naively thought I would be able to relate but it was more of me being a spectator as events unfolded.

Focusing on the two leading female characters, the contrast between Midori and Naoko is like a black slate next to a white one, with a bit of gray in the middle. Naoko is kind, reserved, and  beautiful, but the way she is presented puts me off because she seems to be more of an idealization. Especially considering what happens from pages 173 – 174. I didn’t understand what I was reading so I wrote a question mark on a post-it just so I could come back to it. Re-reading those pages again, it’s as if Naoko is elevated to the level of divinity-

After googling moon goddesses, I read about Selene, the Greek moon goddess, and her relationship with Endymion for the first time. I think the myth might have inspired this scene considering both include the moon as a dominant element, Toru is in this dream-like state and is in complete awe of Naoko’s seemingly flawless body. So we’ve got the moon, sleep/dreams, and the interaction between a mortal and a seemingly divine being in common. I feel I might be on the right track but I’m not going to settle for this reference. What other myths or interpretations could there be? What’s the function of this? Maybe a subtle way of foreshadowing that they were never going to be together since Toru may be awake in contrast to Endymion who is asleep…

Our faces were no more than ten inches apart, but she was light years away from me (p.172)

Midori, on the other hand, is weird, loud, and has no shame. When I’d read her rants, I’d feel so drawn to her, laugh, and would think how I would love to meet a person like her. You come upon her opinions, criticisms, kinks, humor, and grow to appreciate the development of her friendship with Toru. The following is one of my favorites and presents their friendship nicely:

Midori laughed out loud. “You’re so weird! Nobody talks about Euripides with a dying  person they’ve just met!”

“Well, nobody, sits in front of her father’s memorial portrait with her legs spread, either!” (p.303)

Where is the shame with this one?

Shamelessly entertained by Midori’s rants whilst wanting to hug her for acting strong despite the amount of loss she endures, Carla helped me realize that Midori serves a higher purpose than entertainment and tugging on heartstrings. Our discussion developed into the possibility of her helping Toru readjust to reality and staying alive.

Reiko is another interesting character. I love how she is described in the book, especially the details of her wrinkles. Growing up in a society that seemingly rejects the aging process, the portrayal of her wrinkles as a form of beauty puts me in awe. Despite Reiko seemingly taking on the parent role to Toru, talented, caring, and an amazing support system to Naoko, what happens with the 13 year old and later with Toru leaves me conflicted.

However minimal, the comic relief offered by Storm Trooper and Midori is highlighted because this is such a melancholic book filled with death and pain from unrequited love. One more thing I’d like to point out is that there appears to be various transitions that take place. The most relatable one was Toru’s transition from Ami Hostel back to the city, where all the noise and vulgarity returns. From the unnatural quietness of Ami Hostel to the noisy urban space, I felt that spaces like Toru’s dorm room and Midori’s home offered a delicate inbetweeness. Something you come to appreciate if you regularly migrate between a noise fest and a place too quiet for comfort.


I actually bought this book a couple of years ago and finally got a chance to read it. I’m not sure what drew younger me to it but I’m glad I bought it. I’m super glad I read it now because I don’t think I would have appreciated it had I read it earlier.

Presently, I’m reading The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom.

-MS-

 

 

 

 

 

A Post for the “Time Being”

I’ve been fascinated with Japanese culture ever since I discovered the power of transformation anime at the fragile age of nine. Since then I’ve been an avid anime watcher/ manga reader and eventually an admirer of Japanese culture.

Don’t misunderstand, I celebrate by mixed blood and embrace both cultures I’ve been born into but my exploration and appreciation of Japanese culture is a personal interest. I want to understand where the creators of some of my favorite anime/manga/movies come from.

Not so recently, I’ve taken an interest in Japanese literature as well. Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 trilogy was the first I read and immediately I was hooked. Based on that pleasant experience, I don’t hesitate to buy his books but he isn’t the only Japanese author out there.

I think I was at Virgin Megastore when the beautiful cover of the novel, A Tale for the Time Being by  Ruth Ozeki, caught my eye. The blurb claimed that the character that finds Nao’s diary could have a life-changing experience. The blurb also teased about how it might change my life and I thought why not?

Tale for the Time Being

The first thing you learn when reading this book is that everything and everyone is a time being. At first I thought it was a personal philosophy of the author but later on I found out it’s from Zen Master Dōgen Zenji’s book, Shōbōgenzō.

“A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.”- Nao, A Tale for the Time Being

I believe that explaining what a time being is helped change my expectations for the novel. I had understood time being as the English compound word used to show the present. That this is a story for now. And such a meaning works for how the story is built and transcends into reality because I was reading the story in those previous moments that were once the now.

Speaking of the now, the protagonist, the owner of the diary, tries to understand the meaning of the word now.

“But in the time it takes to say now, now is already over. It’s already then.”-Nao, A Tale for the Time Being

Do you think she figured it out?

That’s one of the many details she discussed in her diary. Nao wrote about her family, home life, school life, her great-grandmother Jiko and her summer at the temple, and all the other pieces that fabricated her life up until the last page. In fact, Nao is never physically present in the story. It’s through her diary you learn that she is a little eccentric, caring, perverted, and insightful. Overall, her life is sad and hard, and I think she was only truly happy when she was at Jiko’s temple. She suffers… but she overcomes it and learns from it.

Ruth, the woman who finds the diary, had pages dedicated to her reactions to the diary, figuring out the mystery behind the diary (is Nao real?), and introducing us to life and the people on the small island she and her husband ,Oliver, live in. Honestly I was far more interested in the Nao chapters which affected my concentration whenever I turned to the Ruth chapters. Now I’m left with the question

Did the diary change Ruth in anyway? Did I change in anyway?

All I can say for now is that both Ruth and I ended up caring for Nao even though neither of us have met her (Ruth might but I never will). That’s one change.

The novel covers aspects of Japanese culture, both positive and negative. From the practice of staring at jellyfish to reduce stress (page 49 ) to the Japanese perspective of suicide expressed in Yatsutani Haruki’s letter. Additionally, all the Japanese words are translated so I found that useful since the past two months I had been trying to learn new Japanese words. Perfect timing.

T.B.B.